Facebook adds ‘Places’: Cellphone location service

By Anne Collier

I’m sure you’ve heard about Foursquare, a game and geolocation app that lets people “check in” to their favorite spots virtually when they’re walking in physically. Well, Facebook now has a geolocation app like that called “Places,” so users can use their cellphones to let their FB friends know where they are (only in the US at this point). In addition to checking in, FB users can “see who else has checked in at a particular location and even tag [FB] friends who are there with them,” ArsTechnica reports.

Teen safety/privacy: ArsTechnica explains in detail how it works, and I blogged about Foursquare here and, in a bit of a social-tech primer, here, so let’s zoom right in on what Facebook Places does for teen users’ safety. Facebook says that the default setting is that only people on your friends list can see your check-ins, so adults proactively have to change that default to “Everyone.” For people under 18, it simply can’t be changed to Everyone; even if teens set their privacy controls to Everyone, only people on their friends list see their check-ins, Facebook says. This now applies to all posts by teens, FB adds: “In updates that involve minors, the minor’s name will only show to the minor’s friends.” If anyone of an age is tagged as being in a location, the tagged person (“tagee”?) will get a notification (via text message, email, and the FB site) that FB says will allow them, “with a single click,” to remove the tag if it’s unwanted. Apparently locations (like coffee shops, restaurants, and other hangouts) that have their own FB pages will have a Here Now feature, where FB users will see which friends are in that location when their friends have checked in there. But teens will only be able to see and be seen by their FB friends in the Here Now box – no one else who’s checked in there.

More on check-ins and tags: If users don’t want friends to know where they are, they need to know that, “once you’ve used the service and agreed to its terms, any Facebook friend of yours can check you in to a location that displays that you are there, just as if you had checked yourself in,” reports ConnectSafely’s Larry Magid at CNET. “Even if you’ve never used Places or don’t even own a mobile phone, any Facebook friend can tag you as being at the location, and who sees that information is subject to that person’s privacy settings, not your privacy settings.”

That’s an important caveat to keep in mind, but know that you and your kids can opt out of Places altogether in your privacy settings. So you’ll want to click to their privacy controls in the next week or so and set them based on “who can see your check-ins”; “whether or not friends can check you in”; “whether you show up in ‘Here Now’”; and “whether to share check-ins with apps” (like Yelp or Foursquare).

Two takeaways for parents, then: Encourage your kids to revisit their privacy features, and have a conversation about who’s on their friends list. Talk about whether those “friends” are people they know in real life and whether they really feel comfortable with all those people knowing their physical whereabouts. If not, they should consider either opting out of Facebook Places or weeding the friends list (FB doesn’t let anyone know when they’ve been deleted from a friends list). I don’t see this development as a problem for teens who use Facebook and cellphones responsibly, but responsible use is mindful use. It means thinking about the implications and making the right adjustments (behaviorally and with the technology) that work for them and your family’s policy.

Related links

* The implications of this development, in the San Francisco Chronicle
* PC World’s “Facebook ‘Places’ Service Adds Location-Based Features”
* “Facebook Unveils Location Service” at the Wall Street Journal

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